Friday, October 23, 2009

Musings: Political Cowardice

It was so wonderful to wake in the night and hear the leaves fluttering in the trade winds that have been too long absent, but were back in sufficient force to cool the humid air, free Orion and his celestial pals from their cottony blanket and shake down a snowy carpet of mock orange blossom petals for Koko and me to walk upon this morning.

Dawn approached as streaks of soft pink and orange in a dove gray sky where Venus — planet of beauty and love — shone, quite appropriately, through a heart-shaped puka in the clouds.

I imagine more than a few kids are loving the idea of no school this morning — their second day off this week — although many parents are less thrilled by the first furlough Friday, especially since for many it means they're also furloughed from their own jobs today.

We had a good discussion about furlough Fridays on KKCR yesterday, with Katie Vercelli, a Kapaa School parent who has been active in the issue, Sen. Gary Hooser, former Councilman Mel Rapozo and Wil Okabe of HSTA participating, as well as numerous callers.

Gary is advocating a special session to allocate money from various funds — hurricane relief and rainy day among them — to stave off the furloughs, but said many of his fellow lawmakers are reticent, saying what’s the use if the guv won’t go along and release the money?

Well, she might if the Legislature sends her a strong enough message of support.

And that leads to the real crux of this issue, which was summed up well after the show by Angus, my co-pilot: “It’s an act of political cowardice. This is the one group that depends on the collective protection of society, and you went after that.”

It’s true. Hawaii has 170,000 kids — that’s 14 percent of the state’s population — enrolled in public school. That's a sizable constituency. But it’s a constituency that can’t vote, and has few, if any, lobbyists in Honolulu. So it’s an easy target.

“They’re stealing their education from them,” said a friend who called me on my way home from the radio show.

And while there’s been plenty of grumbling about the theft among parents, along with a federal lawsuit being filed and lots of scrambling on the part of various groups to provide kids with someplace to go, there hasn’t yet been a groundswell of opposition. Gary said his phone isn't exactly ringing off the hook — not like it was during the debates over civil unions and the Superferry.

Speaking of which, one caller asked, what about the Superferry? Was any effort being made to recoup any of the money the state wasted on — and is still owed for — that boondoggle? Ummm, not that I know of. But the $40 million spent on harbor work, plus the untold millions on legal fees, special sessions, etc., etc., would have made a sizable dent in the $85 million needed to keep the schools open for those 17 days. Hey, maybe we could ask Austal for a donation, seeing as how we helped them win that JHSV contract valued at a cool $5 billion.

One caller said there would be plenty of money for education if the big landowners were taxed for what they really are – land developers – instead of being allowed to pay super low property taxes under the guise of being in agriculture.

You’re talking about a revolution, I said, and he demurred, no, he wasn’t really, he was just advocating common sense and fairness. And while that’s true, I knew that he didn’t realize that to assess taxes on the Big 5 that reflect what they’re really worth would, indeed, be revolutionary in Hawaii.

A few people talked about the ripple effects from this cost-cutting measure. Some of it might not be so obvious as the higher expenses incurred by parents paying child care providers or missing work to watch their own kids, or the lost spending by teachers who have been hit with an 8% pay cut. Will we be seeing behavior and learning problems crop up from this additional time out of class? Higher teen crime and drug use rates? A spike in teen pregnancies?

And that raises another question: how much do we, as a society, value public education? If the public schools get really bad, they can be taken over or even closed under the No Child Left Behind Act. Then those who can afford it will put their kids into private schools and the poor ones, well, all three branches of the military are now meeting their recruitment targets — and I use the word literally — thanks to the crappy economy. And if there’s no room for them there, the massive private prison industry we’ve created needs a constant source of fodder.

I have no doubt that many people do care. Katie Vercelli, who I can see serving on the school board one day, is not the only parent who is pushing for better education. A number of callers suggested some really creative and innovative ways for turning the furlough Fridays into something positive through community service, service learning and conservation work.

Wouldn’t that be a nice outcome? And it’s possible, if folks just decide to work together and do it.

Still, as another person said, I don’t want to make it too easy for them, referring to the politicians in Honolulu and especially Gov. Lingle.

While there are many players in this tragedy, Lingle has the lead. As Rep. Neil Abercrombie noted, and Gary confirmed, federal stimulus money aimed at extending the school year was sent to Hawaii, but it didn’t end up being used for education. Gary said that some folks are looking into that, and the Obama Administration isn’t too happy.

That’s just one reason why numerous callers spoke of holding Lingle accountable.

Which leads to the bottom line question: exactly how do you hold a lame duck Republican accountable in a Democratic state?


Anonymous said...

"Which leads to the bottom line question: exactly how do you hold a lame duck Republican accountable in a Democratic state?"

By punishing children and teachers of course. BTW I think it is more like $60 million on the Superferry boondoggle. AG Bennett was wrong then and he may be wrong now. Who holds the AG accountable when the Gov and he break the law?

Anonymous said...

Once all the facts get out, I hope that the people of Kauai are just as outraged by Governor Lingle's misappropriation of the stimulus funds that were supposed to be used for education as they were about the Superferry.

Anonymous said...

Also, thank you Joan, for devoting your radio show to the issue yesterday and your column today.

Anonymous said...

"Which leads to the bottom line question: exactly how do you hold a lame duck Republican accountable in a Democratic state?"

Federal Criminal Indictments against Lingle and Bennett.

Anonymous said...

But they haven't broken any laws.

Anonymous said...

Disagree. They have.

Anonymous said...

Please. If any side blantantly breaks laws, the other side will jump all over it. And I'm not "pro-Lingle" in this.

Anonymous said...

Joan sez: "Which leads to the bottom line question: exactly how do you hold a lame duck Republican accountable in a Democratic state?"

Well, you can't hold a lame duck accountable, for all practical purposes.

And what do you mean, "a Democratic state"? It wasn't that long ago Hawaii voted in Dingle. And as of today, I bet Obama is a one-termer. Just too much opposition. Get ready for the HORROR of Pres. Palin.

Dr Freddy said...

Big Money runs this state not the politicians Democrat or does not matter much. Who gets them elected?

Money is squandered in the state. Lots of waste in government and cronyism.

Because there is no Big Money in education, so education suffers even though we spend more per student than most other states.

I would move to the mainland if I had kids to educate, or rich...would also send them to private school. And many are doing just that.

Thanks for your Thursday show. You have elevated the Thursday KKCR talk to the next level.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the DOE seems to be like one of those charities that spend a lot on administrative fees and not so much on the actual charity.